My child is difficult. What can I do?

Difficult children can be a problem. Why does this happen? How do I identify if this is the child’s personality? We give you an answer to this and other questions.

child care


Asa parent, you are bound to have found yourself in a situation in which your child has answered you with a ‘no’ when asked to do something, there by challenging your authority. That does not mean they have a problem, as this is part of a child’s process of evolving. The problem arises when their difficult actions become routine and are not  just common disobedience, but instead, they hide a bigger problem: oppositional defiant disorder. This is a recurrent pattern of oppositional behaviour, which is negative, challenging, disobedient and hostile, and is directed towards figures of authority

Characteristics of a challenging child

  • Tantrums and/or frequent arguments with adults. They get angry because they lose patience quickly. 
  • Little tolerance to orders, refusal to comply with these. They are provocative.
  • Persistent stubbornness, particularly when they want to do something they are not allowed to do.
  • Resentful and angry responses to any circumstance.
  • Difficult attitude towards others without any apparent reason.
  • Negative conduct, refusal to negotiate and to engage with adults.
  • Insults and angry words towards others.
  • Inability to accept the consequences of their actions, blame and reproach others for their own mistakes.
  • Try to deliberately disrupt the people around them at all times.
  • Occasional episodes of physical violence, with or with reason.
  • Tend to have academic problems.
  • Lying and being unreliable.

Why does a child become aggressive and difficult?

Children can learn that provoking and challenging their parents may exasperate them and, therefore, they can get things that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get. They like to know their limits. In the majority of cases, children provoke and challenge for this reason, to find out how far they can go.  


Another reason is that the child suffers from an oppositional defiant disorder. There is no specific cause that can explain oppositional defiant disorder, but experts point to psychological factors as a possible trigger. A coercive or violent upbringing, immaturity or lack of experience in bringing up a child by parents who are excessively permissive could stimulate difficult behaviour. Also, a lack of affection, abandonment during the first years of life, marital conflict, and a mother suffering from depression may also lead to its emergence.

Guidelines and dynamicsto challenge and improve a challenging child

  • Avoid shouting. The tone of your voice is fundamental in showing your child that conflicts do not get resolved by shouting.
  • Be patient. Try to stay in control to explain to your child that their shouting and lack of control are not the way to behave.
  • Work on the frustration. The unpleasant sensation felt when one doesn’t get what they want. Learning to tolerate this is very important in the child’s life.
  • Keep an eye on their aggressiveness. If you see that your child is losing their temper, let him calm down.  
  • Don’t take part in the power game. Difficult children think they are equal to adults. To them, authority does not exist. Try to make them understand that their behaviour is not correct and, if they don’t do as they are told, you will need to act on it.
  • Set clear limits. And stand by them. Be consistent and determined. You need to know how to motivate, to make them understand the consequences of their actions, also allow them to experiment, there need to be positive consequences for good behaviour.
  • Seek professional help. If none of the above works for you, find a psychotherapist to help your child and to provide guidance through this problem for you, as parents.